Competition discussion: Charlotte

The season is still two months away, but most of the rosters are set, barring the requisite Michael Jordan comeback rumor (just kidding, but only a little).  We have an idea where our team stands, but we can't really know unless we discuss everyone else.  In that spirit, I'm going to throw up a "competition discussion" thread for each of the other 29 teams over the next month or so.  We'll go in alphabetical order from A to Z.  Today's team: Charlotte.

Last year's record: 32-50

In: D.J. Augustin, Alexis Ajinca, Shannon Brown.
Out: Jeff McInnis, Earl Boykins, Othella Harrington, Derek Anderson

Projected starting lineup: Raymond Felton, Jason Richardson, Gerald Wallace, Emeka Okafor, Nazr Mohammed,

Key themes:

  • Has the game passed Larry Brown by, or can he still turn floundering teams around?
  • What happens at point guard?  What will the effect of D.J. Augustin have on Raymond Felton?
  • Why didn't Charlotte try to acquire a real center, like they so desperately need?
  • How much small-ball will we see this year under Brown? 
  • Will Sean May and Adam Morrison stay healthy?  If so, are either good things?
  • Will we see the Emeka Okafor of 2006/07, or the one of 2007/08?  Similarly, will "Crash" Wallace return, or is Gerald Wallace permanently a more generic wing player?

(Before we start, if you haven't already, refer back to Jake's post about the 2008/09 incarnation of the Bobcats). 

Alrighty.  You're probably thinking, "how can we get excited about a team that is bringing back basically the same roster from a 32-win team, with the only changes being hiring a potentially over-the-hill coach and drafting a rookie who plays the same position as one of your centerpieces."  Hell, I'm thinking the same thing. 

But if one were to make a case for the 2008/09 Bobcats, it'd probably look a little like this.

1.  Sam Vincent was an abomination, and anybody would be better than him.

Some don't buy this, but practically every Charlotte fan would tell you so.  Vincent's qualifications were pretty iffy coming into the season, and many (including me) feel he only got the job because of his relationship with Michael Jordan.  He then proceeded to validate all fears anyone had of him.

His lineups would make Eddie Jordan look good.  Coming into the season, Charlotte had no real bigs other than Emeka Okafor, since Sean May got injured, but they swung a deal to acquire Nazr Mohammed from Detroit.  Finally, a way to lighten the load on Okafor.  Mohammed's not great, but he played pretty well in Charlotte, posting a 16.2 PER, a 54% true shooting percentage and a solid 17% rebound percentage, numbers that compare pretty well to our own Brendan Haywood. 

So Vincent plays him a lot, right?  Wrong.  Mohammed played in only 23 minutes a game, appearing just once in Charlotte's five most-used lineups.  And who got Mohammed's spot?  None other than Jeff McInnis, he of the 6.5 PER and 46% (yes, that bad)  true shooting percentage.  An already small team became even smaller, and worse yet, McInnis himself was awful.

How much of a detriment was McInnis?  Charlotte's most-often used lineup was Felton-McInnis-Richardson-Wallace-Okafor.  That fivesome had an adjusted plus/minus of -3.93.  Replace McInnis with Matt Carroll, which maintains the idiotic small lineup, and that figure jumps to +2.80.  That's a difference of nearly six points/100 possessions, all while replacing McInnis with a merely average player (if that).

McInnis and Vincent are gone, so that experiment should go away.

2.  Crash will again be Crash

Gerald Wallace remained an effective player last year, but he was not nearly as good as he was in years past.  Ziller did an outstanding job of summarizing this, but basically, Wallace took his game outside more than ever last year, which is bad because he's not a good shooter, and he's so good scoring and grabbing rebounds inside.  Predictably, his percentages dropped and his rebounding suffered. 

Charlotte fans are banking that it was Wallace's situation, and not his game, that is to blame.  He played most of his minutes at power forward last year and was woefully undersized.  This seems to indicate that he should have been mixing it up more inside, but one needs to remember Vincent's affinity for small-ball.  He tried using Wallace's quickness advantage against power forwards by placing Wallace on the perimeter more than ever.  If anyone watches Wallace go against Caron Butler, you'd realize how silly this is.  In the past, Crash has used his size advantage to post up smaller threes, and it's worked for him.  Now, here comes Vincent changing his game.

That's the hope, anyway.  Like Ziller, I don't quite buy it.  Charlotte is still small and Wallace will once again need to play a lot of power forward.  If so, he'll be out on the perimeter, hoping his quickness will help him against larger power forwards.

3.  Anyone's better than Jeff McInnis, even a rookie

Much like our offseason two years ago, Charlotte is hoping for addition by subtraction on its bench.  Just as getting rid of the awful Jarvis Hayes and Michael Ruffin meant those minutes would go to someone who had to be better, so to will replace Jeff McInnis' minutes with anyone should be a positive.  That's it's lottery pick D.J. Augustin should help matters even more, at least if you believe he can play in this league. 

Of course, the return of Adam Morrison negates this, but even Morrison is better than Jeff McInnis.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

To sum up: The Bobcats are hoping they'll improve simply because they'll be less awful at key spots.  I'm not buying that.  Charlotte kind of looks like the 1992 LA Clippers (a team Brown took over and guided to the playoffs twice) in that they have a lot of decent players and the potential to be very good defensively.  At the same time, though, Brown's a long way from those days, and Charlotte still has nothing inside besides Okafor.

Get ready for a lot of small lineups and a lot of mediocrity. 

Prediction: 31-51, 5th in Southeast, 12th in East.

Previously (predictions are me/Jake/Truth)...

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